WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday urged lawmakers to allocate funding for the fight against Covid-19, warning that a failure to do so would put the country's pandemic progress on the line.
Biden's plea to Congress comes as the federal dollars that provide Covid-19 treatments, personal protective equipment and free vaccines and tests are running out.
The federal program that reimbursed health care providers for treating and testing uninsured Americans stopped accepting new claims last week after running out of money and free vaccinations for people without insurance are now on the line, with the funding that paid for the program coming to an end next week.
The White House urged Congress to pass $22.5 billion in aid to fund Covid-19 research, treatments and keep current programs open earlier this month but Congress has failed to fund the U.S. pandemic response since cutting a $16 billion aid package from the government funding plan. Republican lawmakers have demanded that any pandemic funding include offsets that would at least partially pay for the bill and lawmakers are still negotiating a deal on Covid-19 spending.
Biden warned that time is running out on those negotiations.
"We're already seeing the consequences of congressional inaction," the president said before he received his second booster shot in front of the cameras. "This isn't partisan, it's medicine."
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized second booster shots of Pfizer and Moderna for people 50 and older who are at least four months out from their first booster dose. The U.S. has enough doses to fulfill the need by seniors for second booster shots, but White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients warned last week that the administration does not have enough supply to make second booster shots widely available and free if the population in need of them grows and Congress fails to pass funding.
Biden said the government has had to cancel and cut orders for monoclonal antibodies and, without more funding, it will run out of the treatment resource by the end of May. Current testing supplies will begin to run dry in June, putting the U.S. in a precarious place if the fall brings with it another mutation of the virus.
"Even worse, if we need a different vaccine for the future to combat a new variant, we're not going to have enough money to purchase it. We cannot allow that to happen. Congress, we need to secure additional supply now. Now. We can't wait if we find ourselves in the midst of a surge and be too late," Biden said.
A significant part of the White House's new strategy is its "test to treat" initiative, focused on connecting people who test positive for Covid-19 to antiviral pills used to fight against severe illness and hospitalization. The program encapsulates a series of community pharmacies where people can get tested and be prescribed treatment all in the same place.
Biden also touted the launch of COVID.gov, a website that centralizes resources for people to find masks, tests and vaccine clinics near them.
"The bottom line: no longer will Americans have to scour the internet to find vaccines, treatments, tests," he said.
While the White House messaging has talked of a new era of the pandemic, one where Americans are able to return to work and school, Biden warned that a failure to fund research and Covid-19 response efforts could jeopardize that.
"Americans are back to living their lives again, we can't surrender that now. Congress, please act, act immediately. The consequences of inaction are severe, they'll only grow with time. But it doesn't have to be that way. We've proven what we can do when we work together," Biden said.
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